My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
In my column for the March 5 issue of Catholic Times, I wrote about the football player, Damar Hamlin, who suddenly collapsed at a Monday night football game on Jan. 2 and went into cardiac arrest after a seemingly routine tackle. As Hamlin lay motionless while receiving medical attention on the field, players and team staff knelt and bowed their heads in a spontaneous prayer led by the team’s chaplain. I said that there is indeed power in prayer, as Hamlin made a miraculous recovery, and I noted that he thanked God, friends, family, and medical professionals who “saved [his] life.”
A few days after my column appeared I received a letter from a person who had recently lost a loved one who died from an unexpected illness. This person was angry with God, saying that God had not answered their family’s prayers. This reaction is not uncommon. Undoubtedly they are not alone in feeling that God has seemingly turned His back on them and ignored their prayers. That is an understandable reaction when we fervently ask God for something, and then it does not happen.
Jesus Himself experienced this sense of abandonment as He was dying on the cross and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In fact, Jesus was proclaiming the opening lines of Psalm 22. What is noteworthy is that Psalm 22 does not end in despair, but in fact goes on to “offer praise in the great assembly” and proclaim that “those who seek the LORD will offer praise.” Despite their misfortunes, the people continue to place their trust in God, who fulfills their hopes in the end.
While the death of those we love is always painful, we must remember that God loves us and longs for us to be with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven even more than we long for them to stay with us here in this world. When someone dies despite our prayers for their healing and recovery, that does not necessarily mean that God has not answered our prayers. As a loving Father, God always answers our prayers, but not always in the way we want. Every parent has experienced their children saying they want something, but Mom and Dad know better what their children need and what is best for them. No one likes to be told no in answer to a request, but no is still an answer even if it is not the one we wanted to hear.
Our greatest hope as Christians is to become saints, that is, to spend eternity with our loving God in Heaven. God decides when it is best for us to receive that reward. For many, it comes after a long life. For others, perhaps God in His love simply wants them to be with Him sooner. In the end, we know that our Lord’s trust in His Father even as He suffered was rewarded in His resurrection from the dead, which opened the way for us to share in that same hope for eternal life.
May God give us this grace. Amen.